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Researchers: Scans for pulmonary embolisms a double-edged sword

On Behalf of | Jul 11, 2013 | Failure To Diagnose

“Why are you ordering that CT scan?”

That is a question that literally millions of Americans might want to be rehearsing when the recommendation is made in a New Jersey medical office or elsewhere across the country, especially when the recommendationrelates to a suspected lung disorder.

The reason, as confirmed in yet another study analyzing doctors’ ready reliance on CT imaging: The tests, which are powerful and highly accurate, routinely pick up even the most insignificant pulmonary embolisms, with the result that patients in too many instances are being subjected to unnecessary treatments to attend to them.

Doctors across the country are concerned by a failure to diagnose a health condition correctly, and have thus grown to rely heavily upon CT scans, especially for finding artery blockages in the lungs.

The problem, note researchers in a Boston University study that was recently published in the medical journal BMJ, is that the advanced technology might be a bit counterproductive for the ironic reason that it is simply so good. In short, it reveals embolisms that are tiny and harmless, but that, because existing, many doctors feel compelled to act upon.

And that is flatly problematic, say commentators, because the treatment can be more of a concern than the condition itself, which is often better left alone and simply monitored.

“The real concern is that the treatment is so dangerous,” says Dr. Renda Soylemez Wiener, a Boston University doctor/professor and lead author of the recent study.

In fact, the blood-thinning medication that is commonly recommended for embolisms is a top cause of drug-related death in patients.

It has been estimated that up to 25 percent of CT scans performed annually across the country are unnecessary.

Source: New York Times, “CT scan may be too good at finding lung problems, study finds,” Nicholas Bakalar, July 3, 2013

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